By Rick Atkinson


For the Anna-Melissa Tribune


ANNA – After a hard-fought 54-52 win over Sanger in basketball action Feb. 14, Anna’s Coyotes are headed back to the playoffs. Their clutch victory at home pulled the Coyotes (4-5) even with Aubrey for third place in District 11-4A with one game left. First through fourth place will advance to the post-season.


Anna trailed, 32-29, at halftime but knotted things at 43-all by the end of three quarters. The Indians were down by as much as six points in the fourth but rallied and, with seconds left on the clock, had two open shots - first to win it, then to tie - but missed on both.


Junior guard Josiah Mackey led Coyote scorers with 12 points. For Sanger (1-8), Zach Cochran knocked down five 3s enroute to 23 points.


“It feels awesome,” Anna head coach Kyle Phifer said by phone on Saturday. “I’m excited for the kids, for the parents. These seniors went from five wins as sophomores to getting into the playoffs. They’ve set the foundation for the juniors. They’ve stepped up all year, making plays.”


Those seniors - guard Bullet Geer, guard Jayden Rodgers, forward Jackson Vandagriff and forward Jaedin Victorian - also improved from 0-10 in district two years ago to a likely 5-5 mark this season, after hosting Gainesville (1-9) on Tuesday.


Either way, the Coyotes are in.


Anna last made the playoffs in 2017, Phifer’s first year at the helm. That season, the Coyotes also claimed the program’s first-ever outright district championship.


On Feb. 11, at Anna as well, the first-place Celina Bobcats led 21-8 after one stanza and 29-12 by the break. But the Coyotes turned it around in the second half, posting a 31-27 advantage to the finish – even getting to within 46-41 with two minutes left to play. Celina would go on to win, 56-45, on the strength of 8-of-9 free-throw shooting in the late going.


Bryson Brown tallied a game-high 15 points for the Bobcats while teammate Garrison Williams knocked down 12. Celina’s Karson Stastny and Kobe Allison chipped in 10 points each. The Bobcats finished with seven 3-pointers on the night.


Mackey posted a team-best 10 points for Anna. He and guard Zay Gentry led Coyote 3-point shooters with two apiece, as Anna eventually bagged seven treys as well.


“That first half we couldn’t hit a shot – and we couldn’t get stops,” Phifer said. “In the second half we starting hitting shots, but I also thought we were playing a lot more competitively, defensively, trying to focus on doing the little things right. When we do that we can get after some people.”


As for Celina’s strengths, Phifer said, “They don’t turn it over. They have a lot of size. They shoot the ball extremely well. And they have a point guard [Stastny] who’s won a lot of basketball games.”


Bobcats head coach Bobby Stastny had a different take on Anna’s rally. “We start off with 21 points in the first quarter,” he said, “then we have a couple of referees ain’t gonna call fouls. It don’t matter what the game situation is, you’ve got to call fouls. If we blow them out by 40, if it’s a foul it’s a foul. … You can’t go by what the score is.”


In the third quarter, Jaiden Campbell’s big right-side 3 cut Celina’s lead to 34-28 with 1:42 left. The Bobcats got their nine-point lead back, though, with a layup-and-1 as the frame ended.


To start the fourth, Rodgers buried a top-of-the-key trey for Anna – but Stastny answered with one his own for a 40-31 Bobcat advantage. Mackey’s second 3-pointer of the night pulled the Coyotes back within 44-36 and Celina followed with a jumper from the lane.


Rodgers then drew a charge by Ollison - his fourth foul - and with three minutes to go Anna still had hope, down 46-36.


Geer soon sank the front end of a 1-and-1, cutting the lead to nine. After his second try missed, Gentry nabbed the rebound and put it back for two and the Coyotes trailed, 46-39, with 2:07 remaining.


That’s when Mackey stepped the line and drained two free throws - and the Bobcats’ once-daunting lead was five. From there, though, Celina pushed out that 7-0 run from the line to seal the win – a surge finally stopped by Vandagriff’s 3-pointer with 45 seconds left to play.


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Celina 21 8 8 19 - 56


Anna 8 4 14 17 - 45


Anna scoring – Josiah Mackey 10, Zay Gentry 8, Jayden Rodgers 7, Jaedin Victorian 6, Bullet Geer 6, Jaiden Campbell 4, Jackson Vandagriff 3, Jaden Adams 1.


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Sanger 13 19 11 9 - 52


Anna 11 18 14 11 - 54


Anna scoring – Josiah Mackey 12, Jaden Adams 8, Jackson Vandagriff 8, Jayden Rodgers 7, Bullet Geer 6, Jaiden Campbell 5, Zay Gentry 4, Kadrian Evans 4.